The act of disclosing the identity of a rape victim constitutes an offense and is punishable under Section 228A of Indian Penal Code
Everyone is dismayed with the shameful and criminal tragedy that occurred on September 14 in Hathras District of U.P where a 20-yr old girl was allegedly gang raped by four men when she went to collect animal fodder from a field with her mother. According to a report by NDTV, the girl had suffered multiple fractures, paralysis and a deep gash in her tongue in this savage sexual assault. The girl unfortunately succumbed to her injuries at Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi on September 29 following which there many protests were calling for Justice to victim and protestors chanting "hang the rapists".
The incident also took the internet by storm and netizens were demanding that the culprits should be brought to Justice and strictly penalized which is absolutely a legitimate call. But in this entire hue and cry, many of them including high profile celebrities crossed the line and disclosed the identity of victim thereby infringed the law, prima facie without any justification at all. These celebrities who have a great extent of following on social media used a Hashtag which disclosed the name of the victim and this criminal hashtag was obviously set to become a trend. Some of them even shared pictures of the victim without blurring it. This was another illegal and worrisome instance incidental to this rape case and equally shocking and condemnable. Let’s have a brief look on what current disposition of law says on the matter in discussion.
The point of law on the issue is well settled by statutory declarations and the judicial pronouncements. By and large, they place an absolute bar on any kind of identity disclosure of rape victim in the public domain. The act of disclosing the identity of a rape victim constitutes an offense and is punishable under Section 228A of Indian Penal Code (I.P.C).Section 228A of I.P.C is so clear, unambiguous and the consequence of breach of it is inescapable and the question whether the disclosure was intended, bonafide or without knowledge of law has no relevance. It is one of the cardinal principles of Jurisprudence that "ignorantia juris non excusat" which means that a person who is unaware of a law may not escape liability for violating that law merely because one was unaware of its content. Moreover, Section 228A of I.P.C provides that whoever discloses the identity of rape victim shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years and shall also be liable to fine.
Supreme court held in Nipun Saxena Case that ,"No person can print or publish in print, electronic, social media, etc. the name of the victim or even in a remote manner disclose any facts which can lead to the victim being identified and which should make her identity known to the public at large. Where the victim is dead or of unsound mind the name of victim or her identity should not be disclosed even under the authorization of the next of the kin, unless circumstances justifying the disclosure of her identity exists, which shall be decided by the competent authority”. Since, it is maintained that even the identity of dead rape victims should be protected; therefore, the persons who disclose the identity of rape victim should be dealt strictly as per law. This law has a social object to prevent social victimization or ostracism of the victim or her family. It needs to be understood that it is not mandatory to use the name of victim as a symbol for protest or to arouse public opinion and sentiment against heinous sexual offenses. It can be done even without disclosing her identity.
Furthermore, it is submitted and suggested that for the efficient implementation of any law and to avoid repercussions of lawlessness, the awareness of laws in public becomes sine qua non. Mere publication of laws in official gazette will definitely not suffice. There should be legal awareness programmes conducted on a large scale by governmental and non-governmental organizations throughout the country so as to have an effective check and permanent control on such mass violation of laws.
(Author is a Law Student at School of Legal Studies, Department of Law, and Central University of Kashmir)